I’ve always had a difficult time with birthdays, even as a child, when birthdays are supposed to be fun. I didn’t like having to invite a bunch of kids over, since none of them paid much attention to me every other day of the year. I was an uncomfortable child, shy and clumsy and terribly nearsighted. I pulled my world in around me, retreated into books and my own imagination. The main character in my new novel, The Blue Hour, is a boy who, early in the story, has his tenth birthday party, and can’t wait for the kids to leave. I knew as I was writing that section, where I was getting that from. As I got older, birthdays became days for existential questions and too often existential angst…why did God put me here? How can I make my life count? I was haunted by all the time I knew I’d wasted.
This latest birthday — 3 days ago — felt lighter to me, easier, less weighed down by life’s most pressing questions. I’d traveled back a lot to childhood while writing The Blue Hour and it’s possible that, because the novel leads to a theme of forgiveness (on the part of both the boy and a very angry ghost) I too was able to move on from things I didn’t even know I was hanging onto. I woke up on the morning of my birthday thinking about gratitude. I took a long walk down to the ocean and was grateful for my legs, my heart, my lungs. I was grateful that I could see the sky change, from white mist to blue, that I could hear seagulls crying and wind rustling through leaves. I celebrated my birthday with dear friends who feed my heart and soul, and for whom I thank God. And the outpouring of birthday wishes on Facebook was both touching and at times amusing (naked man with a Happy Birthday balloon covering his private parts, a dog in sunglasses.)
We leave behind on this earth a trail of footprints — where we have been and where we have chosen to go. I thought a lot about that on this birthday and felt empowered by the choices I’m making at this stage of my life. I choose to speak up for animals who don’t have a voice, for people whose own voices need some encouragement. I choose gratitude over guilt and forgiveness over blame (okay, the last one is a work in progress, but I’m trying.) I hope my mark on this earth will be one of effort and growth — I have certainly made my share of mistakes and I have a library full of regrets — but I try and learn from them and I think that’s the best any of us can do. No matter how old we get, our time on this earth is short. I made a pledge to myself on this birthday to embrace every moment and cherish each hour, each day as the precious gifts they are. Long ago, my father taught me to body surf by instructing me to swim straight out toward the waves, so I could turn around and get a great ride back into shore. It’s a good lesson for how to live life.